The Best Fly Rod Ever Made?
Asking who makes the best fly rod is like asking who's the greatest NFL football player of all time? Obviously questions like these are something only each of us can answer for ourselves. We all have our own reasonings, our own justifications. That being said, when you hear the names of certain players, most everyone has an image of of true greatness. Hearing names like Walter Payton, Jim Brown, John Elway, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Reggie White, Dick Butkus - one can't help but think, yeah...they were good... Likewise, we think very soon Hardy's new Zenith will command a similar kind of respectful recognition. If it's not the best, it certainly looks like it's well on the way to the fly rod hall of fame...
What makes the Zenith so revolutionary is how much stronger and lighter it is than everything else on the market. Hardy has come up with a material they've trademarked as "Sintrix" which have proven to be beautifully balanced, very light in weight with crisp, clean, medium-fast actions. Sintrix is the name Hardy has given to the material that is a marriage between 3M's new resin and the carbon fiber held together with tiny silica nano spheres. The materials development team charged with developing Sintrix are shared with Hardy’s sister company, Hardy Advanced Composites. This Hardy team of aerospace engineers, led by Chris Bond, developed a unique matrix that was able to fully realize the true potential of the new 3M resin. Check out what head rod designer Howard Croston and tarpon King Andy Mill have to say about this new revolutionary material...
Andy is on to something here... one of the key factors that makes the new Hardy Sintrix rods so incredible is that they are truly uncompromised. What impressed us most about the Hardy Zenith, was it's uncanny ability to do everything well. Without a doubt, the Hardy Zenith is the most universal 5 weight rod we've ever tested. Until the Hardy Zenith, we'd never seen a 5 weight rod that could not only cast delicately and accurately in close, but also have the guts to knock the cover off the ball, throwing the entire fly line. Every other rod we've ever tested had a sweet spot, that is to say it performed very well at close and medium distances, but lacked to power to cast long. Likewise we felt many rods were too stiff to feel nice up close, but they could rocket 70 feet loops with ease. The new Hardy Zenith does it all - and that's why it won our 2011 5-weight shootout by a landslide.
Another factor that sold us on the Hardy Zenith was the rod's the fantastic feel. It is such a sweet mix between ample power and subtle finesse - no doubt one of the hardest things to achieve in the rod building business. Much of this credit goes to Howard, who slowly shaped this rod into a masterpiece it is. His skills as an angler and competition caster certainly show in this rod. There is something special about witnessing a product of passion, whether it is artwork, music, or a sweet fishing tool. While the rest of the best rod designers in the world play for different teams, we think on a professional level, they will also appreciate and respect what Hardy has done.
In our latest 5-weight shootout, we gave the Hardy Zenith a 7 out of 10 for Hardy's warranty policy. This was mostly due to the relatively high cost to replace the rod - a $25 handling fee plus 10% retail cost of rod. For the 9'#5 Zenith, which costs $645- the total cost (including shipping the rod to Hardy) could be as much as $100. What we never considered, which could greatly improve this rod from a 7 to a 10, is that it's not going to break unless you do something incredibly stupid with it! These rods are remarkably strong. If you ever have to send one of these rods in, it will likely have been stepped on or slammed in your car door. In the unlikely event that you do have to send it back, at least you get an entirely new rod back! Check out the heat they put on this 10'#7 weight Sintrix rod...
Here's what George had to say about the Hardy Zenith in our last shootout:
OUR WINNER! In our last 5-weight shoot, it was just by a nose. This time it wasn’t even close! The Zenith surprised us all when it swept every single performance category, blowing everyone else away! Hardy has produced some good fly rods in the past, but nothing that we have seen would really challenge the best American fly rods until now.
What turned the tables was Hardy's ability to bring together a good team of rod designers and a new material from 3M here in the USA that was initially designed for the aerospace industry. Howard Croston, the leader of the design team, is a superb angler and caster, with whom I’ve fished with here in the US. He has been a member of the winning British World Fly Fishing Team, and is well known as one of the best Fly Casting Champions in Europe. The rest of his team included Alastair Dandee, John Shaner, and Jim Murphy – an American angler and great rod designer I’ve known since his days with Redington Rods. These are the kind of guys that know fly fishing and know fly rods, and this is a big part of what it takes to come up with something that is truly special.
The other component is new materials and new technology. Hardy came up with a material they have trademarked as "Sintrix" for these new Hardy rods, which have proven to be beautifully balanced, very light in weight with crisp, clean actions. In conjunction with 3M, Hardy developed Sintrix, which is carbon fiber held together with tiny silica nano spheres incorporated into the new resin system. The materials development team charged with developing Sintrix are shared with Hardy’s sister company, Hardy Advanced Composites. This Hardy team of aerospace engineers, led by Chris Bond, developed a unique matrix that was able to fully realize the potential of the new 3M resin.
With this new 3M technology an even distribution of the nano spheres through the resin can be achieved, providing an unsurpassed equality of strength throughout the blank. As a second advantage, the nano spheres resist compression better than any known material. The end result is Hardy’s ability to produce a rod that up to 30% lighter and 60% stronger than previous rods made with graphite and more typical epoxy resin systems. Bending strength is vastly improved. Hardy claims that their Sintrix rods have also proven to take a lot more abuse than normal graphite rods, both in the lab and under actual fishing conditions, a lot of which was done in Florida. Not only will these new rods bend further without damage, but they will also take incidental impacts (like flies and split shot slamming into the rod) far better than any conventional rod design - all good news to any angler!
Having a wonderful new lightweight material to work with is just part of the story. What the design team has done with it has given us one of the finest all around #5 line fly rods we’ve ever cast! By being able to use less material to build a rod with the same amount of power, they have produced a much lighter yet stronger rod. More importantly, they have given us a rod that has just the right amount of power for a 5-weight rod and that special feel in your hand that gives you confidence to put the fly exactly where you want it with a minimum amount of effort. It is one thing to build a rod that will perform well at long ranges like the TCX, but a far different thing to build a rod that will perform exceptionally well at all distances. As incredible as it may sound, this is exactly what Hardy has done with the 9 foot #5 line Zenith.
Craftsmanship is excellent as we’ve always expected with Hardy rods. The blank is a medium gray color with darker gray wraps. The wraps and coatings are top notch, as you would expect. One conventional stripping guide is used and the rest are the very light and unbreakable nickel/titanium one-foot guides, but smaller on average than on the NRX or StreamDance. The up locking reel seat is a very light and attractive anodized aluminum design with one sliding and two locking rings. A silver butt cap with the Hardy insignia is a nice touch. The handle is a comfortable western style grip much like the Z-Axis with the finest quality cork you’ll find.
George’s casting notes:
Performance at 25 feet: 20 points out of 20
This rod is very, very light and has a pleasant feel in my hand. This rod has a nice flexible tip that gives terrific accuracy. Casting off the tip of this rod just requires a flick of the wrist at shot distances – a wonderful performance. This rod has just slightly more power than the BIIIx but loads perfectly with the #5 GPX line in close.
Performance at 45 feet: 20 points out of 20
A real pleasure to cast at this distance and deadly accurate. Now I can really feel the light weight of this rod but it still has just the right amount of power, and forms effortless tight loops. Feels just about as solid at this range as the Z-Axis. Even though they are very close, I’d give the edge to the Zenith.
Performance at 70 feet: 20 points out of 20
This rod was so light that at first it didn’t seem to be as solid or accurate as the Z-Axis or NRX when casting indoors. Then we went outside and did some long range casting on the lawn, and I realized all my reservations were bunk! The Zenith not only had great power at long range, but the accuracy was marginally better than I was getting with the Z-Axis or NRX. I’d call the performance a 20+!
Nymph Rig Performance: 20 points out of 20
I just couldn’t believe the smooth casting performance I was getting with the wind resistant nymph rig. There was no question that The Zenith was able to throw and control it as well or better than any rod we tested. The extreme light weight will make this a joy to use fishing nymphs, and the extremely quick reaction time will allow a quicker hook set than with other rods. This Zenith looks to me to be an outstanding nymph fishing rod and perhaps
the best we’ve ever tested.
Here's what James had to say:
I distinctly remember before picking up the Hardy and trying it, that I wanted to dislike it. As ridiculous as that sounds, all my previous prejudices, judgments, and ill opinions instantly evaporated as soon as I picked up the rod and made my first few casts. It was like reading something profoundly beautiful for the first time that seemed to speak directly to me. I felt mesmerized by our connection, like watching a cloud bursting sunset at the beach or standing on top of a mountain. The Zenith felt absolutely transcendent in my hands, and in my mind, it's no coincidence that Zenith is spelled with Zen.
No, this rod is not one of Russ Peak's creations, although I suspect he would have loved it's smooth and effortless action. The props here go out to rod designer and casting champion Howard Croston. I don't know much about him, but obviously he is a man of unbelievable talent. His attention to detail is impeccable and his skill as an angler no doubt aided in the construction of this rod.
I was trying to figure out why this rod was so far ahead of the pack. Weight had a lot to do with it and how well balanced it felt in my hand. It has some of the smallest nickel/titanium single foot REC and Fuji guides I've ever seen. The Sintrix material gives the rod up to 60% more strength with no added weight. Obviously, a fair amount of homework went into this rod - great job to everyone at Hardy who was involved!
At close distances, only the Tom Morgan 8'6" #5 and BIIIx felt better. At mid-range, I would have given the Zenith a score of 22 out of 20 if possible. The rod seemed as easy to hit the target at 45 feet as it did at 25 feet - something no other rod was capable of doing. The real mystery here is how does a rod cast so well close, and cast so well at 70 feet!? Unheard of! A major head scratcher here... The tiny single foot guides must help the line track and shoot better, although I was able to carry nearly all the line in the air as well. I simply can't explain how effortless and fun this rod was to cast. You just have to experience the difference for yourself.
If you love fly fishing, you need to at least try casting a Hardy Zenith - you will be amazed as I was. You owe it to yourself, as it will indubitably improve the way in which cast and fish. Bring your own favorite 5 weight (and reel) down to your local shop so you can compare them side to side. Or, if you don't have a shop, we are so confident that you are going to love this Hardy Zenith, if you order one from us and after you do some casting with it, if you don't like it, we'll allow you to return it, (assuming that it is still in perfect condition) for a full refund!
James' casting notes:
Performance at 25 Feet - 20
Surprisingly, the Zenith felt lighter in my hand than BIIIx and Orvis rods. Felt exceptionally light and accurate - almost every cast hit the 10 inch target. The rod literally made me feel like a better caster - being able to throw super tight loops effortlessly. Rod felt alive with energy.
Performance at 45 feet - 20
22 out of 20 if possible. Amazingly, it was just as easy to throw 45 feet as it was 25 feet. Light, tight, accurate loops delivered to the target on point but with a gentle landing. No target slamming here, the big rainbow would have no idea what he was in store for. If I was on TV fishing show casting for difficult trout, I'd want to have this rod in my hands...
Performance at 70 feet - 20
At long distance only two rods gave me the utmost confidence, the TCX and the Zenith. The difference being that the Zenith had a whole lot more feel. I also noticed I threw fewer tailing loops with these rods, since I have a tendency to want to slam the power in too quickly. I noticed that this rod shoots line better than any of the others. Howard Croston and the design team hit a grand slam with this one!
Nymph Rig Performance - 20
Stellar performance. The line shoots with ease - excellent loops, still feels very light and pleasant to cast. Best mix of power and feel, with or without nymphs. An incredible rod indeed...
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